Cricket: Wishing on a star for the selectors' vote: Glenn Moore on the need for England to plan for the future in choosing the side for the third Test at Trent Bridge

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The Independent Online
IN DRESSING-ROOMS all over the country today Test hopefuls will be turning to the predictions of the pundits; not those guessing the England team but those forecasting their stars. An entry such as: 'Expect to do well at work from Thursday right through the weekend' could be enough to win Ted Dexter's vote when he is beamed down from the Starship Enterprise to join today's selection deliberations in a UFO somewhere near the M25.

Alternatively he, Scotty, Dr McCoy and Mr Spock, aka Graham Gooch, Keith Fletcher and Dennis Amiss, may prefer to select on the basis of more earthly aspects, such as wickets taken and runs scored, although that would appear to be a fairly radical departure from the usual process.

On their recent form there is no guarantee the selectors will pay any more attention to events in Southampton than to those on Venus, although with Australia resting Shane Warne for their match against Hampshire that may not be as foolish as it seems. It would be just like Robin Smith to score a century off Merv Hughes only to revert to the flawed hero when faced with Warne's leg-spin.

Some changes will certainly be made after the appalling performance at Lord's. The danger is that the second-innings 'fightback', when England managed 57 per cent of Australia's first-innings total on a dead wicket against three bowlers, will win some players an unjustified reprieve.

The first player dropped will be Chris Lewis. A return of two wickets for 151 and two ducks was not quite what the selectors had in mind when he was given a last chance. The player in line to replace him was, deservedly, Alan Igglesden until he suffered a back injury at Headingley yesterday. The rest is all guesswork, as the choices of this selection panel are about as easy to predict as the Wimbledon men's champion.

Given the assumption that Gooch, having been persuaded to stay on, will not be tendering his resignation today, he will open with Michael Atherton. Behind them Mike Gatting, Graeme Hick, Robin Smith and Alec Stewart are all in danger of being dropped, but while most will escape, only Stewart ought to with the proviso that someone else keeps wicket and he bats at No 3.

Gatting, for all his determination and ill fortune, is no longer a Test-class batsman. Smith is a shadow of the Edgbaston butcher - the next batsman in starts reaching for his gloves and bat as soon as he sees Warne at the top of his mark.

While Smith believes that batsman's heaven is populated by thousands of Merv Hugheses, to Hick that is a vision of hell, the Australian fast bowler having followed those of Pakistan and the West Indies in preying on his weakness against the short delivery.

Yet he could play this stuff once; for all the criticism of the County Championship, it features Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Curtly Ambrose and Malcolm Marshall, and he has made runs off all of them. The problem remains as much mental as technical, although one affects the other. If he does not play now, unlike Smith, there is no point in taking him to the West Indies. There were signs at Lord's that he is adopting a more aggressive approach against Hughes and, with McDermott not playing, there is a case for retaining Hick as the youngest of the trio and a useful spinner.

After two Tests in which David Gower should have played if he was fit, it may now be too late. Of course, he is the same player he was a month ago, but the circumstances are different. At two down it is realistic to begin planning for the future, a move which may have the beneficial side-effect of new players, untainted by constant failure, doing well immediately. So the replacements ought to come from the younger generation of batsmen, such as Mark Lathwell, Graham Thorpe, Mark Ramprakash and Matthew Maynard, and the slightly older Hugh Morris and Rob Bailey.

Thorpe, as the left-hander, and Ramprakash or Maynard would be my choice. None are complete strangers to the England set-up, but neither have they lingered long enough to answer a word association test on 'English cricket' with 'innings defeat'. Having relieved (very much the operative word) Alec Stewart of the gloves, a wicketkeeper (remember those?) is required. Jack Russell remains the outstanding candidate even if, ironically, his superior batting keeps him ahead of Colin Metson.

That leaves five bowlers to pick and only four to play. Andrew Caddick and Peter Such should retain their places, Mark Ilott has done nothing wrong except be forgotten on the first morning of Test matches and Igglesden should complete the quartet. With his county partner McCague also injured yesterday, it is likely to fall to either Martin Bicknell or Steve Watkin to step in if Igglesden fails to recover in time. Ian Salisbury, whose temperament and talent is worth persevering with, should be included.

My XIII: Gooch, Atherton, Stewart, Ramprakash, Hick, Thorpe, Russell, Caddick, Ilott, Such, Igglesden, Watkin, Salisbury.

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